SAKS — The Fyffe factor became a thing for Calhoun County’s Class 3A powers when reclassification put the Red Devils in their playoff paths before the 2020 season.
The county is 0-4, and Saks gets the next crack at it.
The Wildcats (11-1) go on the road to play Fyffe (10-1), one of Alabama’s signature football powers, in Friday’s state quarterfinals. The winner gets the Piedmont-Winfield winner in the semifinals.
Can Saks be the team to prevent Fyffe from winning its fourth state title in as many years and sixth in eight years?
The only certainty is that Saks won’t go into this game focused on history.
“I don’t really think that comes into play, as far as being a mental block, because we don’t have a lot of history with them,” Saks coach Jonathan Miller said. “This is the first time we’ve played. …
“Obviously, they’re an outstanding team, and our kids realize that, but at this point in the year, that’s what you’re going to see.”
Fyffe moved up from 2A before the 2020 season and proved itself capable of running the gauntlet or Region 5 powers, eliminating Wellborn, Ohatchee and Piedmont in consecutive games from the 2020 second round through the semifinals. The Red Devils beat Wellborn two weeks ago, in this year’s first round.
The one Region 5 power that hasn’t tried is Saks. The Wildcats made the 2020 playoffs as Region 5’s No. 4 seed and pushed to the quarterfinals, losing to Piedmont a week before Piedmont losing at Fyffe in the semifinals.
Saks was on the rise then, having won seven games in a row before losing to Piedmont. The Wildcats remain on the rise, now 18-2 since losing three games in a row ahead of the 2020 midseason.
Both losses were to Piedmont, which lost to Fyffe 14-6 in the 2020 north semifinal despite outgaining the Red Devils by nearly a 3-1 ratio. Turnovers in a rainy second half played a role.
That Fyffe team lost plenty to graduation, including quarterback/safety Ike Rowell and four of five starters on a powerful offensive line. All six of Fyffle’s all-state players from a year ago graduated: Rowell, offensive linemen Brody Dalton and Caleb Lyles, wingback/linebacker Malachi Mize, linebacker Tyler Bell and tight end/punter Justin Siefel.
Fyffe made news this season by losing a game. Geraldine ended the Red Devils’ 51-game winning streak 20-19 on Oct. 15.
Saks beat Geraldine 54-31 Sept. 24.
Saks has had a good look at Fyffe’s offense. Region 5 rival Ohatchee runs it.
File it all under, “For What It’s Worth.”
“This is a typical Fyffe team,” Miller said. “They’re physical. It doesn’t look like they’ve skipped a beat up front.
“They do what they do extremely well. They’re a hard-nose, physical football team that’s going to get after you for four quarters.”
As per usual when playing against Fyffe’s run-oriented, ball-control offense, the key is minimizing the Red Devils’ possession time.
“Coach Miller said our chances of winning go up five to 10 percent every stop we get,” senior quarterback Sean Parnell said. “The more stops we get on them, and the faster we get off the field, and the more our offense gets on the field, that’ll be a key in us being able to win.”
As for the Wildcats, they’re a veteran team. Most of their key players … notably Parnell, receiver Jalen McCants, running back Rickey Garrett, wide receiver Shon Elston and H-back Deniro Goode ... are third-year starters.
Injuries pressed some into playing time in 2019, the one season since 2010 when Saks didn’t make the playoffs. Saks has beaten everyone but Piedmont since midseason 2020.
The Wildcats have shown they can score with anyone. Besides their 54-point output against Geraldine, they outlasted Plainview 46-43 in the first round.
McCants has rushed and caught passes for a combined 1,384 yards and 24 touchdowns. Garrett has rushed for 783 yards and eight touchdowns despite fighting through an ankle injury since midseason.
Parnell has passed for 1,492 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 926 yards and 18 scores.
“We have a lot of people who can do things with the ball,” McCants said. “A lot of teams like to focus on one player, and they can’t do that because we have athletes all over the field that can get the ball and score.”
Fyffe beat Plainview 45-19 in a Region 7 game at midseason.
With victories over Sylvania, Geraldine and Plainview this season, Saks has shown it would be at least the second-best team in Fyffe’s region. Come Friday, the Region 5 champs have a chance to show they would’ve won Region 7, too.
“We’ve never played them,” McCants said, “but I just see this as another high school football team that we have to get by to make it to state.”